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U.S. faults Bolivia anti-drug efforts

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Monday it sees disturbing trends in Bolivia's dealings with efforts to combat illicit drugs.

Concerns about contributions to the illegal drug trade by the South American nation came as the White House released the U.S. government's annual list of major drug-transit or drug-producing countries.

The list remained unchanged from a year ago, with 20 nations cited:

Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

President Bush sent a report to Congress that also noted that Myanmar and Venezuela, for the second year in a row, were determined to have "failed demonstrably" to meet their obligations under international counternarcotics requirements.

The report singled out Bolivia, the world's third-largest producer of cocaine, for particular emphasis.

"Despite increased drug interdiction, Bolivia has undertaken policies that have allowed the expansion of coca cultivation and have significantly curtailed eradication," White House press secretary Tony Snow.

The Bolivian government has focused almost solely on interdiction, without a focus on eradication and the development of alternative crops, the report said.

Snow said the U.S. government will establish benchmarks by which to further judge Bolivia, such as eradicating minimum acreages, including in the Chapare region, making changes to Bolivian law and tightly controlling the legitimate sale of the coca leaf for traditional use. An interim assessment of any progress will come in March, he said.

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera met with senior administration officials last week to discuss narcotics issues.

Christy McCampbell, of the State Department's counterdrug office, said Monday that the meeting yielded little headway.

"We expressed our concerns; he listened to it. And there was not any kind of meeting of the minds at this meeting," she said.

On Afghanistan, Snow credited President Hamid Karzai's strong stance against the country's huge opium poppy cultivation but said the Afghan government must do more to deter the problem, including a crackdown on traffickers.

Snow also credited Ecuador with making considerable progress in combatting narcotics trafficking destined for the United States. But, the report said, there has been a dramatic increase in U.S.-bound cocaine sent by Ecuadorian-registered ships.

Snow also offered harsh criticism of Venezuela's counternarcotics record. "Venezuela's importance as a transshipment point for drugs bound for the United States and Europe has continued to increase in the past 12 months, a situation both enabled and exploited by corrupt Venezuelan officials," he said.

Bush waived provisions of U.S. law that could have subjected Venezuela to a cutoff of U.S. assistance because of the designation. The president said he would maintain U.S. programs that aid Venezuela's democratic institutions, establish community development projects and strengthen Venezuela's political party system.

The administration also decided not to cut these programs last year because they promote democracy in Venezuela, a key U.S. goal in a country where, officials say, the commitment to democratic norms has been eroding under President Hugo Chavez.